Tuesday, 14 July 2009

access to nature...

Bit of a long post today, before you start, make a cup of tea...! Right, are you ready? So with the summer holidays stretched out before us, today's post comes from an interview with Richard Louv here, about children's access to nature. This subject is so important to me that I have copied almost the whole article in length so as not to dilute it... 

Whether you grew up in a suburb, on a farm, or in a big city, you probably spent a lot of time playing outside, getting dirty, and coming home happy. Maybe you watched ants making anthills in your backyard, climbed trees in the park, or simply lay in the grass contemplating the drifting clouds. Unfortunately, young children today do not have as many direct experiences with nature, and it's taking a toll. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, maintains that this disconnect from the natural world is producing ill effects in both mind and body. But he's optimistic that well-meaning, forward-thinking parents and educators can close the kid-nature gap. "We should not think of a child's experience in nature as an extracurricular activity," says Louv. "It should be thought of as vital to children's health and development." 

Research suggests that a connection to nature is biologically innate; as humans, we have an affinity for the natural world. When children spend most of their time indoors, they miss out. Problems associated with alienation from nature include familiar maladies: depression, obesity, and attention deficit disorder. Kids who have direct access to nature are better learners. Exposure to nature has been shown to reduce stress and increase attention spans.
When a child is out in nature, all the senses get activated. He is immersed in something bigger than himself, rather than focusing narrowly on one thing, such as a computer screen. He's seeing, hearing, touching, even tasting. Out in nature, a child's brain has the chance to rejuvenate, so the next time he has to focus and pay attention, perhaps in school, he'll do better.

There are some obvious reasons, such as the fact that many families are overscheduled, which chips away at leisure time. Parental fears — of traffic, of crime, even of nature itself, such as with Lyme disease or the West Nile virus — also play a big role in keeping kids indoors. What's unfortunate is that these fears have been overamplified by the media, and the overall effect is that kids spend more time in their homes, or very close to home.
In many places, children's access to nature has been cut off. The woods at the end of the cul-de-sac were made into a new subdivision. New neighborhoods are carefully planned, and as a result, they often dramatically restrict what kids can do with nature. Even parks are manicured — there may be a nice smooth soccer field or a baseball diamond but no rough edges. Rough edges are the places children gravitate toward to explore, where they find rocks and weeds and bugs. Efforts to provide nice-looking and safe outdoor spaces are well intentioned, but they give kids the message that nature is not something you go out in to get your hands dirty.
These days, kids in rural areas are just as indoor focused as their suburban peers, and for the same reasons — parental fears, less 
unscheduled time, an emphasis on computers and other indoor activities. And while we might think that, historically, kids in cities have had limited contact with the natural world, it's not always true. In older cities, especially, there are lots of green spaces, lots of unplanned areas like vacant lots. Sure, it's not the woods, but when we talk about nature it's not about the kind of nature, it's about children having the opportunity and freedom to explore what's out there in their surroundings. That may mean a city park, a farm, a patch of woods in a suburb — even a tiny roof garden counts.
You would think it would be ideal to let kids run loose and come back dirty and happy at end of the day, but in reality this is not likely to happen anymore. We have to come up with new ways for kids to have direct contact with nature. This probably means parents have to get out there with their kids, and explore with them. Schools, too, including preschools, can incorporate natural surroundings. In many schools in Western Europe, nature is incorporated into the design of child care centers and schools, and there have been positive results in terms of kids' attention spans and stress levels.
The best thing you can do is to be enthusiastic about nature yourself. Go out in your backyard. Instead of a manicured lawn or garden, leave some spots untamed so kids can dig in the dirt and find rocks or interesting weeds. If you have a vegetable garden, have your child help you plant seeds or pick tomatoes. Even walking to your local park can be a nature walk to a preschooler — he can collect leaves, you can point out trees and bushes and show him the bugs crawling along the curb. Let your kids get down in the dirt so they can see at eye level the whole universe there. Nature is good for everyone's mental health. Nature isn't the problem; it's the solution.

If you would like to read more or get some inspiration for school holiday activity, I would recommend these books below...

Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv
Forest Schools and Outdoor Learning in Early Years by Sara Knight
I love dirt by Jennifer Ward 
Nature's Playground by Fiona Danks


  1. Spending lots of time outdoors is a given for us in the summer, but it takes much more effort and determination November through April!

  2. Here here to all of that. I've lost count of the hours my eldest has spent digging up the garden looking for treasures, I love nothing more than filthy feet and mud pies, the walls of the house are less forgiving, I just have to close my eyes to the muck!
    Julia xx

  3. great piece I totally agree we mved out of london to the country and you still really have to think about making time it is just not as easy as it was when we were growing up ....fortunately we have a Forest School in the village and they spend lots of time outside ...my little one loves getting down and dirty and mud pies and potions are great!

  4. Thanks for sharing this article. Video games, the internet, and television replacing time outdoors leaves me worrying for both children and adults. It is comforting to know that others feel the same way.


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